The Freedom Riders who had gathered in Jenin on Wednesday evening to take part in a welcome dinner and presentation by The Freedom Theatre School students certainly got a rude awakening the next morning when the first full day of the Freedom Ride began. The coordinators of the ride came with some very bad news: Mustafa Sheta, member of The Freedom Theatre‘s board, had been taken from his home in the early hours of the morning by the Israeli army. Read more here. The Freedom Riders had gone to sleep to the sound of gunfire from Jenin Refugee Camp and now learned what that gunfire had meant: the army had invaded the camp, as it often does at nighttime, dragging people out of their beds and traumatising children.
The workshop on non-violent resistance led by Iyad Burnat from Bil’in’s Popular Struggle Committee, and particularly the exercises on how to act in run-ins with the Israeli army, seemed only too real this morning. More than one Freedom Rider was moved to tears by Iyad’s accounts of everyday incidents in Bil’in as well as in so many other villages in the West Bank where demonstrations are taking place every Friday to protest against the land confiscation and brutal oppression of the occupation forces and illegal settlers.
The group continued to The Freedom Theatre for a visit and delicious lunch prepared by the one and only Um Mohammed. If you met her (and tasted her food) you will never forget her!
The Freedom Riders were also treated to a sneak peak of The Freedom Theatre’s upcoming production The Siege, opening on April 4 and subsequently touring both the West Bank and embarking on The Freedom Theatre’s first-ever tour of the UK. The Freedom Riders got to act as extras in an improvised scene where Isa, a Bethlehem tour guide, prepares a tourist group to go into the Church of the Nativity, where The Siege takes place.
A tour of Jenin Refugee Camp followed, and then on to a classical music concert at Al Kamandjati in Jenin’s old city. Children and youth, students of Al Kamandjati, blew the audience away with their skills and dedication. A beautiful experience, that was magnified by the ensuing Playback Theatre performance by the Freedom Bus ensemble who invited the audience members – Palestinian and international – to share stories that were then instantly transformed into theatre pieces.
A screening of Arna’s Children, the documentary made by Juliano Mer Khamis, co-founder of The Freedom Theatre, ended this eventful day. Tomorrow, it’s time to get on the Freedom Bus and head to Nabi Saleh!